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The Work of St. Margaret Bourgeoys Lives on Today

By Susan Ciancio

Margaret Bourgeoys was born in 1620 in France. At the age of 20, she took part in a Marian procession and was so moved by the statue of Mary—who seemed to be looking right at her—that she knew she had to devote the rest of her life to God.

She immediately registered to work with a group of young girls dedicated to serving and teaching impoverished children. In 1645, she got word that the city of Montreal, Canada, needed missionaries to open schools and to teach the young French and Indian children. Margaret felt called to go and began the almost nine-month journey to Canada.

One of her first tasks in Montreal was to restore a cross atop Mt. Royal—a small, nearby mountain. The cross had been destroyed by hostile Native Americans. Margaret wanted this very visible sign to inspire people and remind them of Christ’s love. Next, she set to the task of teaching children.

Understanding that the family is the foundation of society and its importance in this burgeoning new colony, she opened the first school—in a stable given to her by the governor. At this school, she taught young girls and women how to take care of their families, how to be mothers, and other necessary skills needed for raising a family. Margaret was a true mother and an awesome influence to these young girls.

Eventually, she helped many more schools open throughout Canada. Her kindness, generosity, and leadership led her to be called Mother of the Colony. She encouraged other women to join in her mission, and she founded the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, which has almost 3,000 sisters throughout the world today.

At the age of 69, Margaret walked the 150 miles from Montreal to Quebec to honor the request of the bishop who had asked her to establish an order of sisters there. Several years later, another sister was really sick, so Margaret told God that He could have her if He allowed this other sister to live. This sister soon regained her health, and Margaret died a few days later.

Building crosses

Imagine upending your life and moving to a different country—one that it took nine months to get to! You don’t know much about this new place, only that you feel called to go because it’s God’s work. That’s how Margaret felt. She just knew that she needed to touch lives and help the poor in a different country.

Margaret trusted in God and in the Blessed Mother. Her first act in Montreal was to erect a cross. She then devoted the rest of her life to teaching young women both practical and spiritual knowledge so that they could successfully lead families and love Christ.

How can we take a lesson from St. Margaret and erect a cross—a physical manifestation of Christ’s love—especially as most of us don’t have a giant cross to place in our yards? In truth, we don’t have to erect an actual cross, but we must all find ways to show the world that we are sons and daughters of Christ, for as He charged in Matthew, we are to “make disciples of all nations.”

What does that look like? It’s actually very simple, as the “crosses” we erect can be any outward sign that shows God’s love and shines His light to the world. These crosses can be small, such as smiling at a stranger. They can be a helping hand when someone needs assistance. They can be a kind word spoken or even the refraining of speaking unkind words. They can be donations to those who need food or clothing. They can be larger acts, such as volunteering at a shelter, in a CCE classroom, or at a pregnancy help center. They can even be a meal for a priest or an elderly neighbor.

There is so much we can do to make disciples of all nations, and St. Margaret’s example helps us understand that building a culture of life takes action.

When we act—erect crosses—to help others see outward signs of our faith, we plant the seeds of faith, and we help build that culture of life our world so desperately needs today.

Happy Feast of St. Margaret Bourgeoys! St. Margaret, pray for us!

For awesome pre-K-12 Catholic, pro-life lessons about saints and other theological issues, visit